Hepatoma SK Hep-1 cells exhibit characteristics of oncogenic mesenchymal stem cells with highly metastatic capacity

Jong Ryeol Eun, Yong Jin Jung, Yanling Zhang, Yanhong Zhang, Benjamin Tschudy-Seney, Rajen Ramsamooj, Yu-Jui Yvonne Wan, Neil D. Theise, Mark A Zern, YuYou Duan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Background: SK Hep-1 cells (SK cells) derived from a patient with liver adenocarcinoma have been considered a human hepatoma cell line with mesenchymal origin characteristics, however, SK cells do not express liver genes and exhibit liver function, thus, we hypothesized whether mesenchymal cells might contribute to human liver primary cancers. Here, we characterized SK cells and its tumourigenicity.

Methods and Principal Findings: We found that classical mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) markers were presented on SK cells, but endothelial marker CD31, hematopoietic markers CD34 and CD45 were negative. SK cells are capable of differentiate into adipocytes and osteoblasts as adipose-derived MSC (Ad-MSC) and bone marrow-derived MSC (BM-MSC) do. Importantly, a single SK cell exhibited a substantial tumourigenicity and metastatic capacity in immunodefficient mice. Metastasis not only occurred in circulating organs such as lung, liver, and kidneys, but also in muscle, outer abdomen, and skin. SK cells presented greater in vitro invasive capacity than those of Ad-MSC and BM-MSC. The xenograft cells from subcutaneous and metastatic tumors exhibited a similar tumourigenicity and metastatic capacity, and showed the same relatively homogenous population with MSC characteristics when compared to parental SK cells. SK cells could unlimitedly expand in vitro without losing MSC characteristics, its tumuorigenicity and metastatic capacity, indicating that SK cells are oncogenic MSC with enhanced self-renewal capacity. We believe that this is the first report that human MSC appear to be transformed into cancer stem cells (CSC), and that their derivatives also function as CSCs.

Conclusion: Our findings demonstrate that SK cells represent a transformation mechanism of normal MSC into an enhanced self-renewal CSC with metastasis capacity, SK cells and their xenografts represent a same relative homogeneity of CSC with substantial metastatic capacity. Thus, it represents a novel mechanism of tumor initiation, development and metastasis by CSCs of non-epithelial and endothelia origin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA1856
JournalPLoS One
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 22 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)


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